On Saying No

I read a piece yesterday from Seth Godin’s blog on why you should start saying no to people. As he describes, the opportunity costs of saying no are substantial and quantifiable:

If you’ve got talent, people want more of you. They ask you for this or that or the other thing. They ask nicely. They will benefit from the insight you can give them.

The choice: You can dissipate your gift by making the people with the loudest requests temporarily happy, or you can change the world by saying ‘no’ often.

You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.

This certainly rang through loud and clear for me. Not that I’m an ultra-talented developer with a huge, world-altering project that I just don’t have time to work on, but I know about opportunity costs too. Working from 8:30-5 every day, cooking and eating supper from 5:30-7, and relaxing from 10-11:30 before bed leaves only a window of about 3 hours per day with which to get something done. Obviously, I don’t get these 3 hours every day – some days it’s one hour, some days it’s no hours. Looking at the minimum-maximum scenarios, I probably get anywhere between 5 and 15 hours per week where I can sit down and work uninterruptedly – in a great week it might be 20 hours.

There’s lots of projects competing for love during these 5 to 15 hours. Current highlights include: this site and two other personal sites that I’ve been cooking for the past few months, a new custom Drupal theme, a showcase site and online store for a local photographer, a remodeling of infectionNet, a logbook for runners to be used as a non-profit fundraiser, and I’m hoping, hoping, hoping to soon start working on a web platform for small museums and archives. So that’s 6 websites and almost as many medium-large size print projects. Ooh….right….did I mention that I’m also planning a wedding, renovating a 100+ year old house, and finishing a master’s degree?

After reading Seth’s post, and doing a quick mental inventory of what have on my plate these days, all of this hit me like a ton of bricks.

I suspect that if you work full-time and do some of this stuff on the side you’re in the same position. The allure of getting small, periodic sums of money to supplement your regular income is powerful and very difficult to resist. But resist you must, for while that $200 here and $300 there helps keep you in groceries and beer, it doesn’t get you any closer to your long-term goals and won’t ever help launch you into what you’d really like to be doing.

Hence the goal for 2010 has been revised: not good enough that you make stuff, but you really need to make your own stuff.